If you live in Illinois and are even remotely involved in agriculture, you have most likely heard the Illinois Association FFA convention took place this week. In the agriculture world, that’s a big deal. It’s more than just tons of high school kids walking around in blue corduroy jackets and dress slacks, it is high school students picking the future leaders of American agriculture.

This time of year, nostalgia hits as I begin to reflect on my own FFA days and what those experiences meant to me. Too often people explain FFA as the former title of “Future Farmers of America”, but that is no longer an accurate description of the organization. FFA provides leadership and growth opportunities for high school youth, even those who don’t want to farm.

Throughout my time in FFA, I learned more about myself than I ever could have in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing a classroom education, I wouldn’t be pursuing a Master’s degree right now if I didn’t see the value in it, but I think there is much more to be learned about oneself that can’t be figured out until you enter the real world.

I knew what I wanted to do as a career when I was a sophomore in high school, but I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that down without the experiences that FFA allowed me. I had always enjoyed talking, ask anyone who knows me, but I loved presenting to groups. In FFA I could speak to groups about agriculture and opportunities within it. At this point, I knew I had found my life calling, something I had been born to do.

Not everyone has college aspirations, and that is something else I was able to learn through FFA. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the country and FFA is a place where students can try their hand at these skills. In my own family 3 out of 4 kids were headed straight to a four-year university, but the youngest had a different plan, he wanted to weld. Never for a moment were my parents in the least disappointed in his choice. They knew that his skills as a welder were needed the same as mine as a communicator and my sisters’ as teachers.

We aren’t the only family like this, the only ones whose lives had been shaped by opportunities given to us by FFA. Competitions in FFA range from livestock judging to public speaking, business management to forestry, mechanics to parliamentary procedure, and much more. Students can easily find their niche in at least one Career Development Event (CDE) or become a veteran at competitions like myself. In FFA, you learn it isn’t about winning, but getting to experience a taste of the real world in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

At the 89th Annual Illinois Association State FFA Convention that took place this week, officers were many state level CDE competitions were held. In addition, the new major state officers elected will tour the state over the next year on behalf of both Illinois FFA and agriculture. FFA turns students into leaders and gives those leaders avenues to represent the agriculture industry that they hold near and dear.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

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